News: NPS Faculty, Researchers Stand Up New Littoral Operations Center
Story by Kenneth Stewart
MONTEREY, Calif. - Faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) are advancing the university’s education and research into the operational and strategic complexities of the near shore environment with the establishment of the Littoral Operations Center (LOC).
Littoral warfare refers to naval campaigns that take place in shallow coastal areas characterized by heavy traffic, varying depth and nearby population centers. The littorals have been a longtime focal point of 21st century naval strategy, culminating with the development of a new class of ship, the littoral combat ship (LCS), designed for these unique environments.
“The LOC will conduct and promote the study of U.S. Navy and allied partner nation policy, strategy and technology necessary to deal with conventional, irregular and criminal threats in these crowded and cluttered coastal waters and their adjacent lands,” said LOC Director, NPS Senior Lecturer Dr. Kalev Sepp.
The Navy is making big investments in littoral technology – there are currently 20 plus littoral vessels in the works, but constructing the vessels is just the beginning. And according to NPS Professor of Practice, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Wayne Hughes, as the vessels continue to be integrated into the fleet, decision-makers must determine the optimal weapons, radar and communications systems, and strategies, necessary to make the vessels most effective.
Hughes has been thinking about littoral operations for more than 30 years and was instrumental in the creation of a littoral center at NPS. He was aided in his efforts by, amongst others, retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Stephen Benson, a littorals expert now working with the contractor providing the primary surveillance radar on one of the currently operating littoral vessels.
“For the last 10 years, I have been passionate about [littoral operations]. I believed that at one point, these ground campaigns would shift and we would need to focus our attention on littoral strategies,” said Benson. “It dawned on me that we have 24 ships coming and it was time to stop the grousing and begin the work of figuring out how the ships were going to be employed around the world … I knew the Navy was working this problem, and I began looking for ways to help.”
Hughes echoes Benson’s emphasis on developing littoral operations strategies.
“We are good at blue water operations, but we are not that skilled in fighting and operating in the littoral waters in places like the South China, the Baltic and Black Seas as well as the Persian Gulf,” said Hughes.
Seeking expertise in littoral operations, researchers turned to allied navies that operate regularly in the littorals.
“There is no better place to explore how anti-access [littoral] strategies are employed than by with working with our partners who have been focused on anti-access strategies for years,” said Benson. NPS researchers turned to Sweden to learn from their experience operating in the extreme littorals of the Baltic Sea during the cold war, he continued.
“The U.S. and Swedish approaches to littoral warfare present two unique yet coupled perspectives … The U.S. has been primarily concerned with access via the global commons for brief periods of time, amphibious assault,” said retired Swedish Naval Capt. Bo Wallander. “The Swedish Navy, while increasingly active in coalition forces around the world, has been primarily concerned with its national existence while operating adjacent to the overwhelming threat of the Soviet Union for decades.”
The Swedish approach is also unique amongst naval forces in that it does not make clear distinction between land and sea operations in the littoral.
“They approached the littoral in a way that is unique, I thought that maybe their approach, if we worked on it together, would lead to some better options,” continued Benson. “The Swedish approach is more on the lines of close quarters battle … where there are a lot of friendly and other factors that are very different from what we are used to in the open ocean.”
Sepp also noted Sweden’s unique approach to littoral operations.
“The Swedes have a very different view of the near shore or littoral zone,” he said. “The U.S. Navy looks at it as an area that we travel through quickly to get Marines on shore. The Swedes do not draw hard dark lines between the land and the water in the manner that the U.S. Navy tends to … they see it in an integrated way, how they got to that and managed that integration is something that we want to be able to draw upon,” added Sepp.
Despite all the interest in Swedish littoral strategies, littoral warfare strategy is far from new to the U.S. military. The first significant U.S littoral warfare occurred during the civil war between ironclads, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Littoral warfare was also conducted in Vietnam, but interest dwindled after the conflict as the U.S. Navy focused on deep-water operations during the height of the Cold War. Present interest reflects changing geopolitical concerns, economics and the realization that naval forces around the world will be required to do more with less.
“The U.S. Navy has done a great job since World War II continuing high tempo operations, but as we get fewer and fewer ships, it is difficult to maintain the same presence,” said NPS Professor of Practice, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Kline. “A single aircraft carrier demonstrates ‘economies of scale,’ one carrier today can do three times what a carrier could accomplish in the past, but with modern weapons systems, past solutions begin to look like too many eggs in one basket.”
Kline noted the ability of very small vessels operating in littoral areas to have devastating affects upon much larger vessels. The USS Cole attack is a case in point. The attack on a single modern destroyer can translate into an overwhelming loss in lives and assets.
“You need to break things up … The littoral ship allows us to be in a lot of places, with a ship that is significantly cheaper to build with similar capabilities,” said Kline. “If we are to move toward smaller ships with greater capability, we are able to affordably increase the fleet.”
But, it is not just about manpower and economics. Littoral ships also appear to be an efficient means of responding to modern threats.
“Most of our destroyers are not doing missions related to warfighting, they are doing drug interdiction and other non-wartime activities, littoral ships can conduct those operations more effectively while saving the destroyers for their wartime responsibilities,” said Kline.
As NPS researchers explore littoral strategies and determine the correct mix of technology, weaponry and tactics, they are drawing upon the expertise of NPS’ unique student body through wargaming exercises and campaign analysis courses.
“There is overwhelming evidence that we have the ability to do military research with students to the profit of the Navy and its students in many areas,” said Hughes
“Students were able to offer insights into optimal equipment, weapons and sensor packages and were able to foresee complications and possible capabilities that have not been previously considered,” said Kline.
Students insist that the work they are doing with researchers supports individual learning objectives while providing them with an opportunity to shape the future Navy in which they will continue to serve.
“As a student today, I know that one day I may command an LCS,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Floyd. “As a student here at NPS, I can have input into the development of the ship that I may serve on in the future.”